Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Old School Urban Legend

The fellow to the right is, of course, Yeenoghu, demon prince of gnolls and lord of ghouls, as illustrated by David C. Sutherland III in the AD&D Monster Manual. I used to find the illustration rather creepy as a younger man. There's something mildly unnerving about the stiffness of its pose that, far from a source of derision for me, as it is for many who don't like Sutherland's work, actually heightened its effectiveness. Yeenoghu does look mildly goofy, but in a way that reminds me he's not just another monster but something wholly "unnatural."

In any case, I once heard a story about the creation of Yeenoghu by Gary Gygax. The story goes that players in the Greyhawk campaign, having run afoul of one too many demon lords and archdevils whom they accidentally summoned by speaking their names aloud, got into the practice of using circumlocutions to avoid repeating past mistakes. One such circumlocution was "You-Know-Who." After a while of doing this, Gary sprang Yeenoghu on his players, on the assumption that his name sounded enough like the phrase that he might answer by traveling to the Prime Material Plane.

I always thought the story sounded plausible, since Gary loved puns and wordplay and was never one to give a sucker an even break. Eventually, I remembered the story and asked Gary about him and he told me it had no basis in fact, but was merely an urban legend. A pity, I thought.

(More posts later as time permits. Been busy the last couple of days and will likely be so for a little while longer)

23 comments:

  1. I was always fond of gnolls and Yeenoghu. Based on his looks, in my own campaigns he was a demon lord of hunger, cannibalism, and famine.

    Regarding the story, it's so plausible based on my own experiences of players and demon names, that I would have believed it without question. :)

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  2. A great DS illustration. I've a soft spot for gnoll-kind as well. However, I have always wondered how Yeenoghu holds on to that thing.

    Gnolls need thumbs. ;)

    And gnolls and ghouls? It seems such an odd mix. Is there any gnoll/ghoul connection I am unaware of?

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  3. Ah, I've got it! 5-letter words starting with g and ending with l! :D An o in the middle too!

    13 Down: "A follower of Yeenoghu." G-O-L. It's a toss-up!

    SRY :)

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  4. I haven't read the MM in a loooong time: does it posit a gnoll-ghoul connection? I could also see them with overlapping ecological niches, and thus being competitors.

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  5. I seem to recall reading something, somewhere (and it might have been in an AD&D 2nd edition book, so don't flame me if it was :), saying that Yeenoghu was given dominion over ghouls by Orcus (Prince of Undead) for some sort of service or allegiance. Plausible, I suppose.

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  6. I used Gnolls a lot during the
    80's, but never got around to working in their God. Nowadays I have sort of eliminated them from my world (they could still be there, I just never use 'em). All the demon-drawing are cool, but I have to say that this one is probably my least fave.

    As a kid I had a deep passion for Demogorgon. He just looked like such a pissed-off badass. With the two heads and tails, there were a lot of combat possibilities. I have always wanted a figure of him. I think the only demon lord from the manual that I ever had as a figure was Orcus. I never used him of course, because characters rarely got past 9th or 10th level in my games.

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  7. If you read the Gord books, gary introduces the Ghulaz, which seems like a cross between a Gnoll and a Ghoul.

    In Necropolis, he introduced the Ghulaz and Gholle, although they were spawn of their own demon lords. This was recycled by Jon Creffield with slightly different names (and I believe from my prompting), in Slayers Guide to the Undead.

    I have a feeling if Gary continued with the revamp of AD&D, old Yeenoghu was going to either have dominion over Ghouls with the King as his vassal (or the king being removed).

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  8. @MK: I think Scott at OD&D Wilderlands had something on this a few months back. Something about D&D gnoll and ghouls being derived from Dunsany's(?) gnoles...

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  9. @MK

    I thought D&D ghouls came from Lovecraft. Then again, I think HPL got them from Dunsany, too

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  10. I thought gnolls were originally gnomes crossed with trolls! Now they're ghoulish as well? Crazy!

    ;)

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  11. I thought the idea was that both gnolls and ghouls were carrion eaters.

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  12. Both (AD&D) Gnolls and (Arabian folkloric) Ghouls have hyena-like aspects.

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  13. Doesn't anyone recall "Thouls"? The infamous cross between Trolls, Gnolls, and Ghouls?

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  14. I've nothing to add to my previous comment, I'm merely making a 2nd comment in order to "subscribe to comments".

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  15. Ghouls may actually come from REH (perhaps derived from Lovecraft). Conan gets ambushed by one in Hour of the Dragon.

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  16. Actually, ghouls come from the Arabic word for Ghul, which meant a Demon or Jinn

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoul

    The article indicates the creature first appeared in 1,001 nights, and then in an Edgar Alan Poe story.

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  17. Sure, but I think we have in mind here the immediate inspiration for the "D&D Ghoul", rather than the etymological origins. The REH depiction strongly resembles the D&D version, from what I recall.

    Of course, it is possible that Gygax was directly inspired by the 1001 Arabian Nights, or Poe, or Lovecraft.

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  18. Way back (like 1979), in my first year at university, I played in a d&d campaign run by a very new GM. I was a very new player so it was ok, well, no it wasn't.

    My friend Karl, who was playing as well, had a tendency of saying Aaaaarrrgghhhh! when things went wrong. Yeah, eventually the god Aaaaarrrgghhhh! showed up.

    We eventually got tired of his high level NPC rescuing us and quit his game.

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  19. Yes ghouls and gnolls are both carrior eaters (its the hyena connection) and will both raid graveyards for food.

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  20. Thouls are, unless I am badly mistaken, an invention of Dave Arneson that managed to appear in the Moldvay Basic rules. They've not appeared in D&D since, though.

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  21. @ James M.

    Thouls are mentioned in White Box Book III The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures in the wandering monster tables. You can find it on page 10, the table for Level 2 for a result of "7" on the die roll.

    Of course, they are never described so who knows what Gary or Dave had in mind when they were included.

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  22. DuBeers,

    Thanks for pointing that out. I may well have seen it in the past, but I guess I never processed it until now. Nifty!

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  23. Thoul = Troll + Hobgoblin + Ghoul
    Gnolls are descended from Dunsany's Gnoles

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